Friday, August 29, 2008

Belts can be lethal

See Josh's analysis of Rabbi Falk's condemnation of fashion belts here: parshablog: Does Rabbi Falk Threaten Girls Who Do Not Dress As He Would Like With Cancer?

Monday, August 18, 2008

The 15th of Ave-take 4, differing accounts and group numbers

When I started this topic, I wasn't planning on a fourth post on it. But I really would like to share the textual variations on what the women would say on the days they gathered in the vineyard.

In Mishna Taanit (4:8) only a single speech is recorded: "Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you are choosing for yourself. Don't look only at physical beauty - look rather at the family," and this is also the way the account appears in Midrach Eicha Rabba 33, though the word noy rather than yofi is used for beauty and the cross reference to "hevel hayofi" from Mishlei does not appear.

The Gemara, as presented in
identifies 3 groups who say different things, one promotes beauty, the second family, and the third -- who are ugly, and apparently without the virtue of prominent family, say to marry for the sake of Heaven and adorn them with gold.

But the Yerushalmi learns differently. In its account there are only two types who present themselves -- the beautiful and the ugly. The way the original Mishna quote is rendered as follows: "The ugly ones would say, do not look toward beauty [noy], and the beautiful ones would say, look toward family." Thus, the ugly ones offer only a negative statement of "don't look for beauty," without a positive directive of what virtue can be gained by looking elsewhere. Though the Korban Haedah offers a gloss on the text that the statement would finish with "rather look for a woman who would find favor in your eyes because of her deeds," the text itself does not indicate what virtue the ugly ones have to offer. Only the beautiful ones say what to look toward. Instead of the "look toward for family" becoming a redirection for those who may have looked toward beauty initially to look beyond, it is a less boastful way of the beautiful ones to direct attention to the beauty they have to offer. In a way this makes sense, as physical beauty is largely genetic as parents pass on their physical traits to their offspring. Still, it does really wrench apart the way the Mishna quoted in the Yerushalmi reads, "do not look toward beauty but rather to family."

There is yet a fourth variation on this account, which actually identifies 4 groups speaking in the Eyn Yaakov. While it preserves the Gemara's account with the 3 groups, it also inserts another after the ones who cite the virtue of family in parentheses: ashiros shebahen omros, tnu eynechem bebaley mammon [the rich ones among them would say, look at masters of wealth]. Of course, the parentheses indicate that you skip that part of the text. Still, it is interesting that the one category that looms so large today was added in.

While the accounts of 2 and 4 group are interesting to note, the Gemara's 3 groups would seem to be generally accepted. in my take 3 :
I offered a view on significance for these 3 groups, and I thought of 2 more over the weekend. In the order of the Gemara, the beautiful ones speak first, followed by those with family, and then the ugly ones. The arguments would seem to work from various perspectives. The beautiful ones argue for what appeals to the man immediately -- the attraction of beauty. The ones with family argue for a man's concern for his future -- in the form of his progeny. The ugly ones argue for a longer term view -- that of doing something not for any immediate benefit or even for the somewhat nobler benefit of children, but to do it lishma, the rewards for which have much greater reach.

Another division of 3 is that of tov, arev, and moil [good, sweet, and yielding other benefit] The beautiful ones offer something arev, with an immediate pleasure of attraction. The ones with family offer something moil -- the benefit for children. The ugly ones, though, offer the ultimate tov in an option to do something purely good with no ulterior motive.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The character of one's spouse should come upon one as a surprise -- pleasant or unpleasant as the case may be

I am paraphrasing Lady Bracknell's declaration, "An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself" in The Importance of Being Earnest. Though it was written in the 19th Century, that notion was already understood to be patently absurd, as is her other quote on the subject of engagemetns:"Long engagements give people the opprtunity of finding out each other's character before marriage, which is never advisable." But lo and behold, people living in the 21st century actually promote Lady Bracknell's position.
I had meant to bring up this issue when revisiting the points made by Hanoch Teller in the talk I posted about several posts prior to this one. He declared that the Chassidic couples who meet only once or maybe twice before marrying have very successful marriages. He says that success stems from the fact that they don't know each other before and so realize that they will have to work on their marriage. If that was too subtle for some, he actually came out and said that their marriages are stronger than those of couples from Teaneck [his choice of place] who have gone out together for years before marrying.

There are several problems with drawing the conclusion that he does from the lower divorce rate found among Chassidic couples than MO ones. One is that there is still a far greater stigma to divorce in that community than there is in the MO one. I would think that a resident in Meah Shearim would put up with a lot more unhappiness in her marriage than a woman in Teaneck because the former has fewer options (both social and economic) open to her post-divorce than the latter. Two is the fact that the men and women brought up in such provincial communities like Meah Shearim would be far more conforming to the mold set there and so likely would share the same values and perspectives on life values and directions. Consequently, there would be fewer issues for them to clash about. Three is the different expectations that MO people have for the marriage relationship than the Chassidic couples would have. While Chassidic types would accept that men and women occupy completely different spheres in life that would effectively limit their interaction, modern couples expect a type of companionship that is only possible with two people who share more in terms of their activities and conversation. As this raises the expectation for the marriage relationship, the odds for disappointment are greater than in a marriage where it is not expected for the husband and wife to share much more than the children and household.

In a post I hope to get to in the near future, I would like to look at some couples in TaNaCh to prove that is more than one possible order for couples to meet, get to know each other, love, and marry.

Nix this shidduch; handwriting doesn't pass

The previous 3 posts were devoted to the texts about and significance of the joyousness of Tu B'Av (as well as Yom Kippur). Today, instead of direct meetings, shidduchim are screened. Now, there were screenings of a sort in ancient times. For example, a prospective suitor was expected to ask his female relatives about the girl in question. They would have known from having seen in the local bathhouse whether or not there was some physical mum. But I don't think they analyzed her handwriting. Well, who would, you may be thinking.

Today I saw an ad from "The Shadchan Group: that boasts "35 years experience" and "1,000+ shidduchim on record." Here's the kicker, though: "Matching upon astrology and graphology available." I think I may have spoken to this person once. She said she checks out the horoscopes, signs, whatever it is to see if a couple is compatible. You know who else does this? Indians who follow their native religion. As for doctors make bad husbands because they stereotypically have illegible handwriting? Or should people only date according to their handwriting -- like those who slant to the left should avoid those who write straight upright?

The 15th of Av take 3, Allegory & Significance

I wasn't really planning a 3 part series, but I wouldn't wish to disappoint SL.
The premise behind the work of Shir HaShirim is that the relationship of Hashem with us can be likened to the closeness achieved by husband and wife. In that vein, it makes sense that the Mishna that I quoted in the first post on this topic quoted from the verses of Shir HaShirim to connect the concept of matches and marriages with the occasion of Mattan Torah & Binyan Bais Hamikdash. So it was fitting to parallel the closeness of Hashem to His people that is manifest on Yom Kippur and by the positive things that happened on Tu B'Av with actual men and women getting matched up.

Do note, BTW, that there are no shadchanim involved in these matches. I have come across some people who rely on secondary sources for their accounts of what happened in the vineyards who claim it is a day for matchmakers. But that is not what the original texts say. It is a day when matches are made directly by the matchees -- that is the men go out in search of a wife, and the women spoke for themselves. (I could just see this as being made into a plug for EndtheMadness's founder's constant argument.) But the lack of go-between is also a point for the parallel of the relationship between Hashem and Israel. While the other nations have a representative, we deal directly with Him. In addition, the familiar way the women address the men with no coyness or hesitancy reflects a confidence about the establishment of their relationship.

The 3 types of girls described in the previous post made me think of the different types of people like the ones identified with the 4 minim used on Sukkoth. They range from the beautiful ethrog to the arava that really has no particular virtue to recommend it. So I would say that the girls able to boast of their beauty could parallel those who have attained their own beauty in terms of Torah, avodah, etc. The ones who refer to family have not manifested their own greatness but know they have the potential for greatness because they stem from great stock that they are certain will carry on to their children. But then there are the ones who can boast neither beauty nor family. Yet they do not give up on their own right to connection with Hashem. Like the heroine in Shir HaShirim, they know that their surfaces are unattractive but their beauty can come through when they are placed in a proper setting. In a way, their connection is deeper because there is nothing overt that can be identified as the source of the attraction between them and the suitor. There is nothing one can answer to "What does he see in her?" it is not a love that is tluya badavar. As there is no particular thing that the love depends on, it can never be lost. This may be why the lowly arava gets special distinction on Hoshana Rabba.

But I do not want this to be taken to mean that all of this is symbolic and didn't really happen. I do not believe the Talmud would go through such pains to detail what happened and even who borrowed white dresses from whom if it didn't occur historically. What is nice about the approach then is that the women cooperated by sharing their clothes. They did not spend more than they could afford on their outfits for dating. Think about what young women today spend on clothes in order to draw confidence from the knowledge that being expensively dressed means being well-dressed and creating the right impression.

Related post:

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

15th of Av Take 2, or 3 types of girls

There are more lines ascribed to the girls who participate in the festivities of Tu B'av in the Talmud's account in Taanis 31a than in the Mishna cited in the previous post. It also goes into more detail about the borrowing of white dresses --who lent to whom -- and the necessity for purifying the clothes. In addition to sparing one the possibility of embarrassment by lending her a white dress when she may not own one, the fact that everyone was borrowing meant that all had to purify the dresses with a dunk in the mikvah.
The daughter of Israel go out and dance in the vineyards. Anyone who lacked a wife went there. . . . Our rabbis learned: The beautiful ones among them would say: "Raise your eyes to beauty, for a wife is only for beauty." The girls who had yichus [well established, reputable families] would say, "Raise your eyes to family, for a wife is only for children." The ugly ones among them would say, "Take what you take for the sake of Heaven, and adorn us in gold jewelry."

This version sounds a lot less pious than the one in the Mishna. The girls here are not quoting verses from TaNaCh to make their sales pitch. Instead, they are essentially putting their best assets forward. The ones who have beauty flaunt it here and capitalize on it in this marriage market. They would not be singing "sheker hacheyn vehevel hayofi," but  the opposite as it suits their purposes in being selected as a wife. The ones with good family seem to not be the same as the beautiful ones, so they are not talking about genes that lead to good looks in children but genes and environment that lead to other positive traits for children.

The most amazing is that the girls who have the least to offer -- the ones termed outright ugly in the description -- declare that they too have a right to marry, and the men should be motivated by the sake of Heaven (I imagine they meant the mitzvah) to marry. Furthermore, they place the onus of attractions on their husbands-to-be with the assurance that the right jewelry and clothes (as Rashi, I believe, says) would work wonders on their looks. It's like Lady Bracknell's assurance that a French maid can have such effect on a woman that even her own husband won't know her (See The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde).

So it would seem that even way back then, there were valuations and possible A lists for shidduchim. And beauty gets first mention. One major difference between then and now, though, is that there is no monetary incentive here. The girls can only offer beauty or family connection -- not wealth. You may also have noticed that other possible advantages like intelligence or even skill in household management, as are attributed to the woman of Eishes Chayil who speaks with "chachma"and makes sure all the household needs are met while acquiring fields and engaging in trade. But, and this is a major difference, even the girls who are not only B but possible C list as far as shidduch rankings may go do not see themselves as rejects. The problem lies not in them but in the vision of the prospective husband. Instead of looking for what he could acquire that builds his status from a wife, he should look at what he could do for her. It's a very audacious turnaround. You go, girl!

Related posts:

Thursday, August 07, 2008

the 15th of Av

The last Mishnah in Taanit (4:8) is positioned so that we end on a good note rather than with the fast of Tisha B'av. It is the famous piece on Tu B'Av:

Rabban Shimon the son of Gamliel said: There were no holidays so joyous for the Jewish People as the Fifteenth of Av and Yom HaKippurim, for on those days, daughters of Yerushalayim would go out dressed in borrowed white clothing, so as not to embarrass the one who didn't have. . . And the daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards. And what would they [the women] say?

"Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you are choosing for yourself. Don't look only at physical beauty - look rather at the family - 'For charm is false, and beauty is vanity. A G-d - fearing woman is the one to be praised...' ("Mishlei"/Proverbs 31:30)

They proceed to quote further further from Eshes Chayil, and the Mishna concludes with Tanna's addition of a quote from Shir HaShirim. whose explications leads up to "this is is the building of the Holy Temple that should be rebuilt speedily in our days, Amen."

The Gemara (Taanis 30b-31a; Bava Bathra 121) remarks, Yom Kippur was a day of joy and celebration, for "selicha and mechila," as well as the giving of the luchos, but what happened on the 15th of Av? It goes on to list the events that Kehati refers to in his gloss of the MIshna. There is another,more detailed version of this story in the Gemara, in which the nubile girls offer more options to the boys. I hope to draw the compare/contrast at some point. But for now, let us just concentrate on this particular Mishna. The way it ends forces a connection between this event that would lead to marriages and the building of the Bais Hamikdash, which is what is signified by "yom simchas libo" [the day of his {Shlomo's} heart's gladness]. As a marriage of accord is one in which the yud and the heh combine from Ish and Isha (this was referred to in Hanoch Teller's talk, as I quoted in the previous post, though it is a well-known idea) it is meant to serve as a dwelling, so to speak for the Schina [Divine presence]. So building a marriage is building a Mikdash, which is what the Bayis ne'eman everyone wishes for the young couple in their congratulation is supposed to be about. [Hanoch Teller referred to marrying in order to build a Mishkan, but he did not reference this Mishna.

6 positive things are commemorated on the 15th of Av. Two of them are directly related to marriage, or, more specifically, permission to marry:

1. On this day, the tribes were granted permission to marry out of their tribes. In the first generation to enter the Land of Israel and to receive their portion of land, women who inherited their fathers were not allowed to marry out of their tribe, so as not to allow land belonging to one tribe to pass over to another, as we read in the recent Torah portion about the daughter of Tzlofchad.
On Tu B'Av, it was clarified that this limitation was only for the generation of the daughters of Tzolfchad and would not apply to future generations.

2. The tribe of Benjamin was allowed to marry other tribes after the episode of pilegesh bagiva that prompted the rest of the Israelites to pronounce a ban on offering their daughters to the tribe from which the people responsible for the atrocity sprang. Then they realized that a whole tribe may be lost and came up with the idea for the men of Benyamin without possible wives from their own tribe could grab their brides from the women in the vineyards.
Just to fill out the list:
3. The "Desert Generation" ended.

Following the Sin of the Spies, when the people of Israel cried that they would not go to the Land of Israel, the whole generation of Israelites who had left Egypt was sentenced to die in the Desert.

Every year until the fortieth year, on the eve of the Ninth of Av, Moshe Rabeinu would command them, "Go out and dig!" They would go out of their desert camp, dig themselves graves, and sleep in them overnight. The next morning, a messenger would proclaim, "Let the living separate from the dead!" About fifteen thousand men would have died that night; the others would return to the camp for another year.

In the last, fortieth year, no one died. At first they thought that they might have counted the days wrong, and so they slept in their graves the next night too. This went on until the fifteenth of Av, when they finally realized that no more people would die, and they declared that day a day of celebration (Talmud Yerushalmi, Ta'anit 4:6).
4. The decree of guards to prevent anyone from the Kingdom of Israel from crossing over into the Kingdom of Judah and going to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem set up by Yerovam Ben Nevat was annulled this decree on Tu B'Av.
5. Those who were killed at Beitar were buried.

6. No more trees were cut down for use on the Holy Altar.
The wood used to fuel the Holy Altar was dried, since fresh logs might contain worms. After Tu B'Av, the days become shorter and the sun is no longer strong enough to dry out freshly cut logs.Because it marked the completion of the work for Hashem, it was made into a Yom Tov.

Views on the Shidduch Crisis

Last night I ventured out to the Agudah of W. Lawrence (aka Far Rockaway, but another Agudah already has that name) to hear Hanoch Teller speak on the topic: "Shidduchim : Reflections and Recriminations." I actually took notes but may have difficulty deciphering them, so I will write on some of the points mentioned while it is still fresh in my mind.

General suggestions to alleviate the shidduch crisis, which he evidenced by citing that there over 6000 singles in Brooklyn and over 6000 single females in Manhattan, implying that these were not in the first blush of youth. I don't know where the numbers come from. Anyway, solutions from the community were to have people get more actively involved. He said if there are chevra kaddishas and the like to serve the no longer living, there should also be groups to meet the needs of the living future. He briefly said that putting money toward the cause should work, though he didn't explain exactly how beyond paying shadchanim for their services. People have to do more than invite a single over for a meal and then send them home having just thrown a name at them. Throwing names is not at all helpful, he said. He also said that singles need guidance along dating, usually to encourage them to stick through and pursue the relationship. He declared that for anyone who has gone out with, say 50, and can't make it work, the solution is not #51 but an "education and overhaul." As for the educators along the way, they should not force a mold upon the people that doesn't fit them because they then look for people who don't match who they are but who they think they should be based on what they've been told.

Following from that point he said that it is better for a girl to say she wants to live in a big house than to pretend otherwise in the pursuit of shidduchim. Granted, she may have material issues to work on, he said, but at least she is honest. As for the singles themselves, they have to get beyond the "trophyism" which dictates their must-have attributes list for prospective mates. The key quality that the boys are after is nearly alway what the girl is lacking. He admitted that boys are very hung up on looks, but said that girls demand what amounts to "the best bochur in Lakewood who doesn't learn." As singles get older, he said, they actually get even more exacting and more reluctant to meet people, in part because they've already suffered through so much rejection.

He included the usual diatribe against Hollywood scenarios that make people look to "fall in love" as you "fall in a pit." But "what you fall into, you can fall out of." One's attitude has to not be "When I meet the right one, I'll get married," but rather, "I have to get married, so I will meet the right one." And, of course, if you are not ready to get married or lack an understanding that the true purpose of getting married is to build a mishkan for the Shcina to dwell in (as Chazal say about Ish v'isha) then you should not be dating.

There are other points and some critiques I would like to go over in more detail in a follow up post. In the meantime, feel free to comment.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Thanks for the tip

You've probably heard the expression of my title, especially if you've ever watched a really old movie where the protagonist finds himself in a place where some stranger warns him about the rules of the place or the person he had better not make an enemy of. I had another interpretation in mind, though: a thank you for the tip of money given to camp staff. This is my oldest daughter's first year working at a camp. At the end of the first half she received a couple of tips. I told her she should write thank you notes to the parents who tipped her, and she did. The fact is that I do not ever recall getting a "thank you" from the counselors and such I tipped in my children's limited day camp experience, and I don't hold it against them. But I do think that a tip, though customary enough to be expected, should not be taken for granted. If parents do not tip or tip far below the "suggested amount" the camp offers, one is not within one's rights to bill them. Therefore, it is still a gift, and so should get a "thank you." Will my daughter gain anything by writing those notes? Probably not, as the note will be given after the tip amount has been determined. Nevertheless, as I've mentioned in other posts, one does the right thing just because it is the right thing.

And for others interested in expressing thanks, see the carnival on the subject hosted by Juggling Frogs at

Monday, August 04, 2008

Free Food

Nahama deskisufa is the term for bread of shame. The underlying assumption of human nature is that a person does not enjoy a "free lunch" as much as one s/he has earned. That is the reason given for Hashem having created a world in which we have challenges to meet while working to amass mitzvos -- so that we can earn our schar, for if it were just given like welfare, there would be an aspect of shame that would detract from our full enjoyment of our reward.

But, the more I see of the attitude projected today, the more I believe that humans have completely eradicated this pride of earning one's own way from their being.

I quote below a very public posting that went out on my community email list. Let me preface it by saying that I perfectly understand economics and the fact that certain subsidies phase out when particular income levels are reached, which is why one can actually have a higher standard of living on welfare than working at a low-paying job, particularly when one also has to shell out most of the hard-earned dollars on childcare. Nevertheless, the welfare view and complacency about living off handouts is not one that builds a financially secure future. And while poverty is nothing one need to be ashamed of, I am surprised that a person would announce to the world that he is a recipient of foodstamps and would prefer to remain so even when given a chance at a higher income. If he were taking the long-term view, he should realize that it is necessary to take the intermediate step of a small raise that cuts into his benefits so that he can earn a high enough salary not to suffer at the loss of foodstamps down the road. The fact is that one's salary history is a major consideration in the salary offered by new employers if he ever leaves his present position to improve his financial situation.

Here's the post with the name and email eliminated:


My family and I are currently eligible for food stamps. I earned a
raise at work and need to determine whether I will lose food stamps. If
I lose food stamps, it is not worthwhile to accept the raise at this
present time.

Does anyone out there have access to the following information? What is
the maximum income that a family of 7 (2 adults + 5 children)may earn
while maintaining food stamps eligibility in New York?

Note: The Food Stamps office are no help as they do not answer
hypothetical questions. They only will run numbers through their
computer program and if I am over the limit, I will be in a problematic
situation. As well, if I turn down my raise unnecessarily, it will be a
substantial loss for us.